LEO Near Miss: Officer’s traffic stop nearly turns into ‘suicide by cop'
This near miss reminds officers to be cautious with preconceived notions about the conduct or intentions of a suspect
Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) Near Miss is a voluntary, non-disciplinary officer safety initiative that allows law enforcement personnel to read about and anonymously share stories of close calls or “near misses,” which provide lessons learned that can protect fellow officers in similar situations.
I’m a short, female officer working midnights in a high-crime area. I’m pretty proactive and make a lot of traffic stops searching for narcotics, gang activity and firearms. I stopped a truck thinking it might be stolen. We have a problem in my area with people printing fake paper tags and placing them on stolen vehicles (along with hiding expired registration and inspection stickers).
The truck was a lifted F250. I couldn’t see into the truck. I approached the driver, staying behind the door frame, and I told him to keep his hands on the wheel. He gave me expired insurance and told me he didn’t have his immigration papers. I told him I didn’t care and we don’t enforce immigration laws. I opened his truck door to get the insurance so I could have the VIN and his name. Again, he told me he didn’t have his immigration papers. When I opened the door, I looked inside to make sure no one else was in the car and there were not any visible weapons. For a third time, the driver told me about his papers.
I walked back to my vehicle to run the driver through NCIC, and I sent my assist unit to talk to the driver to try to get consent to search the truck. My mind was on narcotics. My assist, who could see inside the truck, saw the driver loading a six-shooter revolver. He got the driver at gunpoint, and I ran up and also held him at gunpoint until we could come up with our plan. We got him into handcuffs safely.
The driver didn’t expect me, or anyone, to come back that quickly. He thought he had time to load the revolver while I checked him on NCIC. Turns out, this stupid revolver was a high-powered BB gun. When getting him into handcuffs, he again mentioned his papers. At this point, it started to click: He thought he was getting deported. My only guess was he was going to do suicide by cop.
Contributing Risk Factors
- Inadequate scene size-up/assessment
- Subject’s possession of a weapon
- Be cautious with preconceived notions about the conduct or intentions of a suspect. My mindset was on narcotics on the stop. However, every answer he gave me referenced his immigration status. That should have been a clue to me. Immigration status is irrelevant to me, but not to him. He was willing to do suicide by cop rather than (in his mind) be deported. As found in the FBI’s LEOKA (Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted) reports, an officer’s perception of a situation and the suspect’s perception of a situation can differ significantly.
- For larger vehicles that you cannot see into clearly, consider using your patrol vehicle’s loudspeaker to ask the driver to step out as opposed to approaching the vehicle.
- Always use proper officer safety tactics and focus on behaviors that are indicative of resistance, evasion, or imminent attack. Pre-attack indicators can come in many forms. Incongruent and/or repetitive statements can be an indication of intent to resist or attack.
- As demonstrated in this story, when encountering suspects with two or more officers, remember the importance of maintaining cover if contact must be interrupted by other tasks, such as NCIC checks.
- As a habit, after I finish talking with a driver on initial approach, I stay in the shadows unseen for just a minute or two to observe what the driver does. When I have a second unit with me, I have them do that or vice versa. This tactic is usually to see if the driver or occupants are hiding drugs, but in a planned attack like this, it could save your life.
- My biggest lesson learned is not working like a suspect thinks you will.
HOW TO SUBMIT YOUR NEAR MISS
Support this critical officer safety initiative by reading and sharing the near-miss stories and lessons learned that your fellow officers have shared, and consider sharing your own near-miss experiences at LEOnearmiss.org.